Natural and Low VOC Paints

Paint can be a huge contributor to making our homes much more dangerous to our health that the outdoors. Volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, are often found in paints, lacquers, stains and other cleaning materials and cause our living spaces to be extremely polluted.  We must make sure to buy paints with zero or low VOCs or those in which are made from natural materials.

Paint Cans
Photo by Bree Baily.

What are VOCs?

Volatile Organic Compounds is a more and more popular term in relation to the green movement, but probably never fully explained to you.  They are a very broad range of chemical gases which are carbon-based that are emitted by products like paints and various building materials, but also other products including gasoline, diesel and cigarette smoke.  Different countries have different standards for what a VOC is and how they are regulated.  Since they are often found in common household products, they can be in concentrations of 2 to 5 times higher in our homes.  Extremely high concentrations of VOCs can usually be found in new buildings.  That’s scary considering we usually spend the majority of our time indoors.

Health Concerns

There are many health risks associated with being exposed to high levels of VOCs for long periods of time.  There is even a sickness known as the sick building syndrome associated with being in a building too long that contains high concentrations of these organic compounds.  Symptoms usually are similar to being allergic or asthmatic which can include as minor as eye nose or throat irritation to more dangerous damage to our liver kidney or central nervous systems and possibly even cancer.

Eco-Friendly Paints

Now that we know just how harmful VOCs can be to our body’s, it is especially important that we use paints that are natural or that contain zero or low VOCs.  When going to buy paint, make sure to look for the following types of paints.

Natural Paints

These types of paints are made from all natural ingredients and are the safest available.  The most popular type of natural paint is a mixture of milk protein, lime known as milk paint.  Other varieties of natural paints include ingredients such as clay, soy, plant and fruit oils and other natural minerals.  Many of the same companies that make natural paints also have natural water-based wood stains and color pigmants.  Some popular brands of these types of paints include:

  • Real Milk Paint: One of the top milk paint makers that also makes natural oils and waxes.
  • Bioshield: Makes all natural paints, wood stains, color pigments and more.

Check your local green building store or antique stores to find more great natural paints.

Low and Zero VOCs

Be sure to carefully read all paint labels when looking to see what VOC levels it contains.  The EPA currently has maximum acceptable levels of VOCs and .  If a paint can says Zero-VOC then by EPA regulation it must have less than 5 grams/liter.  The current maximum level of interior paint is 150 grams/liter and 250 grams/liter for outdoor paint.  There currently is a Green Seal certification that enforces low VOC paints to have less than 50 grams/liter.

When shopping for paints, regardless of whether or not “Low VOCs” is displayed on the label, make sure to find the exact amount.  Since there is no government standard on determining whether a paint contains low organic compound levels, it’s extremely important to compare the number with the current maximum levels.  If no number is provided, be sure to ask or do some research on your own.

Please share any brands or types of natural or low VOC paint that you have used with great success.

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  1. Great article…

    I love to use Horizon Zero VOC Interior Paint from Rodda Paint. It is manufactured locally and is far more durable than some other Zero VOC paints I have tried.

    I started using it with my kids’ rooms and have since repainted almost my entire interior.

    • Seo83
    • July 10th, 2009

    The article that posted above related to VOC is really superb. I didn’t know before that its extremely polluted. Now i will avoid such type of paint..

  2. VOCs lurks in paint, and it can be harmful to people, especially if you have breathing problems which is why we use protected mask gear. You make some good points in this article.

  3. We want to live in a healthy way every where including in our own houses. Since our houses need to be colorful, we have to consider what kinds of paintings we use for our houses.

  4. I agree this will help protect my earth from pollute and other acids. This eco friendly paints I have hearted.

    • generic
    • August 28th, 2009

    The article that posted above related to VOC is really superb. I didn’t know before that its extremely polluted. Now i will avoid such type of paint..

  5. Other sources of VOCs that you should be aware of are carpets and furniture. Both of these can be high in VOC and affect the air quality and indoor environmental health. Before buying items such as carpet be sure to look at the label where the composition should be available. A rule of thumb though is that the more the carpet has that “new carpet smell” the higher the VOCs.

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